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August 7, 2012

Androscoggin County Farm Bureau Continues Support of Ag Education Program within MSAD #52

Written By: Sharon Hathaway, Teacher at Leavitt Area High School

   In the fall of 2010, Leavitt Area High School launched a curriculum designed to increase students’ awareness of agriculture in MSAD #52 (Greene, Leeds, Turner).  Entitled Exploring River Valley, the course involved 20 seniors, their teacher Sharon Hathaway, and a diverse group of community members ranging from local farmers to USM professors and Cooperative Extension workers.  The Androscoggin County Farm Bureau was one of the first groups to step forward with broad support.  Not only did the Farm Bureau collectively provide funds for classroom supplies and activities, but several individual members shared their lives and livelihood with the students.

   The first year went extremely well with students discovering their heritage as a community.  Farm Bureau funds were used for spades and hoes needed to start a school garden; display boards needed to assess student achievement; and locally made cheese for a project known as The Golden Tractor Challenge.  In this challenge students at the high school are offered an opportunity to become the holder of the golden tractor for a quarter of the school year if they have full participation in activities leading to gaining knowledge and skills related to a locally produced food.  This challenge has been very successful and the golden tractors have been awarded to the winners at an all-school assembly.

   Three Androscoggin County Farm Bureau leaders that have shared with the students are Nat Bell, Betsy Bullard, and Peter Ricker.  Selective cutting of a woodlot was the topic of Nat’s presentation/demonstration at Curtis Homestead in Leeds.  Students walked away with knowledge of the need for selective cutting, how to predict yield from a log, and a few boards to use in construction of raised beds.  At Brigeen Farms, Betsy helped students participate in the harvesting of embryos and in learning about dairy cow care and feeding.  Ricker Hill Orchards provided a look at the entire process of growing, packing, and marketing apples.  They also provided supplies for the Golden Tractor Challenge called Apple-icious.  The list could go on and on as the community opened its heart and soul to sharing their passion for agriculture with Leavitt students.

   Exploring River Valley, a purely elective class, was filled to capacity for the second year.  Androscoggin County Farm Bureau again stepped up with funding and support.  This past year Farm Bureau funds were designated to increase our capacity for hydroponic growing in our classroom and school.  The students built a window farm out of mostly recycled materials.  The unit did, however, require a pump, some valves and tubing that had to be purchased.  The success of the initial window farm inspired the students to build more window farms and place them in other areas of the school.  The school librarian agreed that her sunny windows would be the perfect spot for a window farm.  Most staff and students frequent the library, providing exposure to a large segment of the population and growing conditions seemed perfect.  The window farms will be placed in service in the fall of 2012 because by the time the units were built, there was not enough time in the school year for a full growing cycle.

   The third year of Exploring River Valley is now in the planning stages.  The class has been expanded to two sections due to student interest.  A new focus on ag careers is being added to the curriculum.  Agriculture in Maine and throughout the nation seems poised for job growth.  Exposing students to the varied agricultural careers available to them will prepare them to consider agriculture as part of their future.  The learning in Exploring River Valley is student-driven with individual and/or small groups of students designing and implementing action projects from a list of options.  With career paths added to the mix of potential projects, students will be able to complete job shadows or internships in the multiple jobs needed to bring food, fuel, and fiber to us all.

   The collaboration between Androscoggin County Farm Bureau and Exploring River Valley has provided students learning experiences that they will remember for a lifetime.